Colin Burton turned to his Church’s youngest members to design a temple
Back in the 1970s and 80s I was living in a newly established village, Bar Hill in Cambridgeshire. We had an unusual problem in that we outgrew our Church building and wanted to build a new and bigger one. A fellow member of the Church was Prof. Ivor Richards who was kind enough to give us his Architectural expertise and started to give us ideas on what we might achieve. This eventually evolved into him designing several versions, and the final idea, which was built. To aid our Church members involvement and help them interpret the drawings, I took on the role of building scale models of the plans.
The project was published in The Architectural Review (April 1992 Volume CXC No. 1142) and we subsequently displayed the plans and models in the Biennale Exhibition in Venice. With 3D computer imaging there is not much call for architectural model making any more but I still like to use the skills I acquired during the above process and this leads me to the purpose of this letter: I am now retired and living in a small village in Devon. One of our local churches has a children’s group (a bit like a Sunday School but we meet on a weekday evening) in which I am involved.
As part of our programme we were talking about King David designing a new temple to house the Ark of the Covenant. He was excluded from the actual building because of ”blood on his hands” but he got the design completed and the materials together so that his son, Solomon, could finish the task. Our little group of children were asked to think of what they would come up with for a design, bearing in mind that a ’’temple” would have a completely different purpose in our modem day, ie a meeting place for worshippers. So the first week we got the children to take on the role of David and got them to put their ideas down on paper.
In subsequent weeks I made wood and card models of their ideas which they helped to construct. Bearing in mind that these children were aged 5 - 12 they had great imagination and it is these ideas I wanted share with someone, such as yourselves, who might encourage them. We came up with three main ideas, the most popular was the one where the building would take on the role and form of a bridge between us and God or a journey over the Jordan into the Promised Land. This would not necessarily be an actual bridge because you could have a pond on either side of the building to represent a river-crossing place. Within that theme there were distinct individual variations.
Cerys: she had a fairly straight forward bridge where the main idea was that a high roof would reach heavenwards and you would have glass walls at each end. This gives the idea that the journey into, and across the bridge could be personally planned, inviting and transparent. With such a roof this would make a beautiful space to have worship.
Maebh: her low apex roof made her design look like Noah’s Ark so we made her walls slope outwards to enhance the idea. This would remind those entering such a building of God saving humanity and animal life. We discussed the options of where in Noah’s journey the design might represent - either on the water or when it finally came to rest on Mount Ararat.
Poppy: (at 5 years old she loves colour!) We decided the bridge could take on the form of a Rainbow which represents the promise of God not to flood the earth again. There was something very special about the idea of worshipping God inside His promises. There could be a row of stained-glass windows set into each side wall of the bridge and a clear roof to enable a direct view of the sky above. The second idea was along the lines of the original building in Bar Hill which I showed pictures of. It was an octagonal shape. This represented the seven days of creation plus the further day when God would return to bring everything to completion. It also reminds us that Jesus rose on the day of the subsequent week after he had been crucified ie the eighth day.
Isobel - She took on the octagonal theme with a grand entrance up steps and the idea that it could incorporate the Tent in which the Ark of the Covenant was housed prior to King David’s time which was moved from place to place with the People of Israel. This would be a permanent building but with a tent-like looking roof. Sort of a Yurt theme!
Katie - she also wanted a grand octagonal building but this time with a clear dome roof. This came from the idea that your light and focus would come from skywards. Her other great idea was that the building would be at the heart of a community and there would be a pathway leading up to a door in each of the eight walls making the building a community focus and inviting from all directions -(also a nightmare to heat!)
Lottie: she is our most independent and original thinker. She was much more focused on the style and colour of the furniture inside! The building was to be so simple but within that simplicity it brimmed with fresh possibilities. A very plain wall with only a door to relieve it - but once through the door you would met by the most amazing window opposite. This could look into woodland - looking out of, or into a community- looking down from a hillside. The plain entrance wall reminded me of the Gloucester M5 services where it is like walking into and under a hill - again, when you get inside the opposite wall is a vast and glass. Lottie did cover the roof with green card so it looked like turf. It did occur to me afterwards that you could have a round shape beside the entrance door to represent a stone rolled away from the tomb of Jesus.
I would love to think that, having done the exercise, this may inspire one of these young lives to become an architect. At the very least I would hope they to look at buildings with fresh eyes and are prepared to give their imaginations some rein. I hope you agree.